Sunday, March 8, 2009

Am I a Soldier of the Cross? - Alternate Tunes

Praise for the Lord #34, #35

Words: Isaac Watts, 1723
Music (#34): Thomas A. Arne, arr. Ralph Harrison, 1784
Music (#35): Joseph C. Lowry(?), from Kentucky Harmony, 1817

For a discussion of the text, see the post about PFTL #33.

The tune ARLINGTON, used in #34, is discussed in connection with "Again the Lord of light and life". It is interesting to compare how this text fits with tunes in different meters. The 6/8 meter of MCANALLY (#33) and the 4/4 meter of PISGAH (#35) lead to similar patterns of syllable emphasis, but the 3/2 meter of ARLINGTON (#34) leads to some odd stresses in the text (e.g. "Is this vile world..." comes out rather oddly).

The tune PISGAH (#35) is from the Kentucky Harmony, edited by Ananias Davisson (1780-1857) and first published in 1816, actually in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This was the first publication to incorporate the raw, still-evolving music of the frontier revival called the Great Awakening, which blended the home-grown colonial singing-school style with African American spirituals and a further infusion of the Anglo-Scotch-Irish ballad tradition.(Shearon)

As the frontier became more settled, the singing-school tradition persisted, including the relatively new innovation of shape notes. There are several living traditions descended from these times, the best known of which is the network of singings using the Sacred Harp. Click here for an audio file of the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers, an African American shape-note singing society from southern Alabama, singing the tune PISGAH. Note: part of the Sacred Harp tradition heard on this historic recording is singing the notes of the tune first, using the solfege syllables; thus the nickname "fasola" (FA SOL LA) for this style of music. Also, the melody part is in the tenor, and what we have in our hymnals as the tenor was sung by high women's voices.

Another very interesting Kentucky Harmony tune in Praise for the Lord is DETROIT, with the modern text "Forgive our sins as we forgive"(#918). Click here for a Youtube video of a Sacred Harp group singing this tune.


Shearon, Stephen. Singer's Glen. Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, ed. W. K. McNeil. New York: Routledge, 2005: 341-342.

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